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By Jim Wilson
President LMRA Bicycle Club
Do you live just outside the “Big City”? Do you enjoy bicycling in your smaller town but wish there were some Bike Routes/Lanes in your city? You might live in a community outside Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, or El Paso; a major reason for your choice of residence likely includes the safer cycling. Well there’s more than just reduced traffic in these smaller communities, smaller government and greater emphasis on recreation and quality of life mean you can help bring about greater cycling safety. The first necessary action is the easiest but most overlooked- ASK!
Our elected representatives in the State Capitol and those city council members in large cities have so many demands for their time it can be very difficult to properly gain their attention and express the need for increased bicycle safety. On the state level we’ve the Texas Bicycle Coalition (TBC/BikeTexas); they have the daunting task of advocating cycling legislation to our state representatives.
Luckily, on the home front, in the smaller cities in which many of us choose to ride and reside local representatives are more accessible. Many of these cities greatest tax base is not a large employer but you and I, the home owner- the concerned resident. Your concern, ideas, and wishes to enhance the city’s image as a recreationally friendly community can carry great weight in your local city hall.
The first step to successfully garnering support for a new Bike Route or Bike Lane in your city- express to your local city council the need for them. Explain how a Bike Route/Lane will enhance your city’s image while increasing the safety of both motorists and cyclists alike. Start by setting up a meeting with your city’s assistant or deputy city manager; this city staff position can be instrumental in helping you convey your wishes to city council. City managers have very hectic schedules, assistant city managers are often more accessible to assist you.
Some guidelines before you approach your city’s staff (assistant city manager):
- Have a general plan. Where do cyclists already ride? This location would likely be a great first leg of a Bike Route/Lane network. This roadway should be a safe place for cyclists and it is best if it is centrally located in your community as well.
- Emphasize the positive, don’t come in with a “problem”. Something along the lines of, “This street is already a Bike Route, it is used everyday by cyclists. These cyclists demonstrate our city’s quality of life and show we are a recreationally friendly community.” Your request- that the city should recognize this street is already a Bike Route, that the city should embrace it as such, and foster the safety of both cyclists and motorists by designating it a Bike Route/Lane per TxDOT ordinance.
- Illustrate how this can enhance and show off your city for the great place it is- note that those cycling through your city at 15-20 mph, rather than 40-60 mph in a car, see the city as the safe, friendly, community you know it to be.
- Do not take too much ownership for your plan. Have a general plan, a first route, a general overview for additional routes/lanes to connect all parks, neighborhoods, and geographical areas but recognize and accept staff and city council amendments to your plan.
- Ask that the assistant city manager check into the costs of a first Bike Route. The signs are available from TxDOT at minimal cost. If the city doesn’t include the labor cost of installing the signs (those doing this labor are already on city payroll) they’ll find the cost to be very low.
- Remember! You’re not coming to your city representatives with a problem- just a requested enhancement.
- Start SMALL. While you may want a connected network, the first step is a singular route/lane to later center a network around. This first small portion will let them see it, get used to it, and understand, “hey, this is okay, this is a good thing.” Enhancing what’s already done, that comes easier later.
- Understand many city staff, and even more city council members are unaware of cyclists’ needs or rights. They likely know little about the differences between a route and a lane, they may also be fearful that establishing such will increase risk. Remind them that cyclists are already there, that they are a legal vehicle on public roadways, and that a route or lane will only increase their safety and those around them. Stay positive in all communications!
You might be pleasantly surprised with your reception and the speed of the process in your smaller community. Ensure that with each positive step you stay involved, positive, and make a point of thanking all those involved for their efforts. City council members in smaller cities are not politicians but basically volunteers providing for their community. They are there to help and enhance their city, they’ll greatly appreciate it if that is your purpose too.
There is no “perfect formula” but the guidelines above have worked well for us in the past. Give it a try, go out there and ASK!